This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Gone With the Wind. It also marks the first time that I’ve read the novel, despite a preteen fascination with the movie that inspired me to pick up Alexandra Ripley’s 1991 sequel, Scarlett. Thanks to Scarlett, I knew there was more to Gone With the Wind than the film had been able to portray (Scarlett had two other children from her previous marriages, for example). Still, that book had done so little justice to the characters I had loved—or held in extreme dislike (Ashley Wilkes is second only to the Reverend Dimmesdale on my wimpy literary men hate list)—on the screen that I never did pick up Gone With the Wind, thinking it would prove another turgid potboiler.
Well, it kind of is. After all, Scarlett does get married three times. But it’s more than an 1860s Peyton Place. Gone With the Wind does an excellent job of portraying a culture lost, and the mixed emotions that those who survive the war feel about their changing way of life. Yes, there are some Klan apologist passages that made this modern reader cringe, and it’s not 100% clear whether Mitchell thinks the Old South was too perfect to last or too untethered to reality to last, although the mindset of her heroine makes me think she leaned toward the latter.
Which brings me to Scarlett. Though she has always exasperated me, overall I always admired her strength and resilience. A master at building flawed characters, Mitchell emphasizes Scarlett’s business smarts and adaptability, not just her feminine wiles and ruthlessness, as she emerges from the Civil War as a woman uniquely suited to thrive among the wreckage. You learn surprising things about Scarlett, starting from page 1:
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw.
There’s plenty more about Rhett, Melanie and Ashley too. This is truly a saga to savor, and just might be the ultimate summer read.
Have you read Gone With the Wind? What are you reading this week?